Thursday, February 04, 2010

Latest FCC Statistics Reveal Shrinking Telephone Subscribership in New York

This week, the FCC released the latest of its three-times-a-year Telephone Subscribership in the United States report. It contains data from November 2009 and shows that the percentage of households with a telephone in New York now stands at 95.0%. This figure represents a slight decrease from the last set of figures in July 2009 (95.4%) and continues to lag the national average and those of neighboring states. In fact, while the national average remained constant at 95.7%, all neighboring states saw an increase, except for one. Massachusetts increased from 98.2% to 98.4%, as did New Jersey (95.1% to 97.0%), Pennsylvania (97.9% to 98.6%), and Vermont (98.2% to 98.9%). Connecticut did see a decrease from 98.5% to 97.0%. New York State has now fallen behind all of its neighbors (and the national average).

Keep in mind, these statistics include voice service received from a traditional landline phone company, a cable company, and wireless service and so is considered to be all inclusive. When conducting its survey, residents are asked by the FCC
Does this house, apartment, or mobile home have telephone service from which you can both make and receive calls? Please include cell phones, regular phones, and any other type of telephone.
Thus, the migration of customers to cable or cellphone service and "cutting the cord" should not affect the accuracy of the subscribership data. Also, the higher penetration of phone service in every neighboring state suggests that New York needs to focus more on this issue.

Using 2008 numbers, the US Census Bureau estimates that there are nearly eight million households in New York State. If 5% lack telephone service, that translates to 400,000 New York households lacking telephones. By comparison, if New York achieved the 98.9% penetration rate of Vermont, 312,000 more New York households would have telephones than have them today.

This is an unacceptably large number of families that can not reach emergency services or inquire about job openings.

According to the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), 2009 Food Stamps report there are at least 1.3 million households eligible for Lifeline discount telephone service across the state yet only about 300,000 landline and 344,000 wireless customers are participating in the Lifeline program. The problem has been identified: more than half of those eligible for Lifeline discount telephone service are still not receiving the benefit. While this total is an increase from recent years, the total number of Lifeline benefit recipients today is less than it was a decade ago. The recent improvement is due solely to the inroads made by wireless Lifeline providers during 2009 and not the efforts of OTDA or the New York State Public Service Commission (“PSC”).

Resolving the problem requires a higher level of commitment from the PSC and OTDA than what we have seen to date. As PULP reported in December 2009 , the PSC and OTDA should

(1) Fix the automatic enrollment process between OTDA and the Lifeline providers,

(2) Break down policy barriers that inhibit the provision of the assistance to those whose phone service is provided by a cable company, and

(3) Eliminate tariff barriers which bar Lifeline to customers whose local phone service is included in a bundled package of local and long distance service.

Lou Manuta

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